Blog Post

Freelancing: Gig by Gig - Jake Barnwell

Even as early as elementary school, Jake Barnwell, a 2018 UNI graduate, knew that arts and theatre production work was what he wanted to do.

Barnwell originally went to college elsewhere with the intent of majoring in music education. He realized he wanted to focus on being able to have more variety in his work, so he transferred to UNI to major in theatre design and production.

When he started working at the Gallagher Bluedorn, he intended to focus on lighting.

“Of course at the Gallagher Bluedorn you get to work in all areas: audio, set up, stage hand and stage crew,” he said.

Newer employees are typically paired with a senior student, who acts as a mentor. Barnwell was mentored as a new student, and later, was a mentor to others. That practice serves him well in his present teaching roles.

Jake at the sound board

Barnwell says his work at the Gallagher Bluedorn afforded him opportunities that most people don’t get to have. He got to see and work with Rent, Camelot, Pippin, a number of big concert artists and comedians.

As staff, they’re supposed to respect the privacy of visiting artists and not ask them for autographs or to take selfies with them. However, Barnwell has a fond memory of Jay Leno reaching out to engage with him and the other student workers.

Working with big productions and top level professionals are unique experiences that are difficult to get in most college performing arts jobs. Barnwell said that having the opportunity to meet touring groups was really important to learning the ropes of the business. If they were seen as hard workers and doing a good job, they would receive business cards from the touring crew and be told to contact them when they got done with school.

The student employees at the Gallagher Bluedorn come from varied majors and Barnwell feels that helped him to meet more people with different skill sets. Barnwell said that the work experience heightened his awareness of everything that needed to happen, and made him a more marketable employee after graduation.

His favorite part of the work was watching the backstage area come to life for a show. He still finds it impressive how long it takes to set up but how fast it is to tear a set down and get things back on the truck. Barnwell now teaches that the work is like choreographing a dance and it takes everyone to make that happen.

With the learning he did at UNI and his work at GBPAC providing a strong foundation, Barnwell has been able to make an exciting career for himself. He presently works for UpLight Technologies Event Production Company out of Nashville, Tennessee, and helps execute a contract to put on varsity all star cheer team competitions. They have a rig that has 22 moving lights, and high level audio equipment and video. He spends at least 14 weekends per year travelling with this company. This work has let him practice working with his own crews as well as how to work with the various labor unions (it’s different in each state). 

Barnwell also teaches at Dallas Center Grimes, in Grimes, Iowa. There, he teaches a theatre program, which has a strong technical training focus. Additionally, he does production work for Cody Hicks – a local country western band – which keeps him busy.

Written by Margaret Empie